3DS Circle Pad Extension

Up close and personal with Nintendo's portable Frankenstein.

As far as rumours go, the first whispers that Nintendo was planning on somehow stapling an extra circle pad to the side of the 3DS was at the wackier end of the tittle-tattle spectrum, and you can be sure Eurogamer thought long and hard before reporting on it.

An alleged insider's claim that Nintendo was subjecting its fledgling hardware to a brutal bout of cosmetic surgery just six months after launch seemed like a case of Chinese whispers at best or, at worst, some audacious trolling from 01.net, the French site that broke the story.

But less than a month later, here we are, standing in the Tokyo Game Show's Makuhari Messe, clutching the unwieldy beast in our hands. Believe us, it's very, very real.

So, how does it feel? Well, rather nice actually. While making the thing easy on the eye has proven a feat beyond even Nintendo's usually infallible design team, they have at least made it a pleasure to hold.

What you couldn't see in the first promo shot of the peripheral is its ergonomically curved exterior. It's a pleasing fit in your hands and surprisingly light too. Perhaps it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that it feels a lot like Nintendo's new Wii U controller. And despite some of the unkinder nicknames it has already picked up, it's not actually that big. Nintendo's boosted handheld feels no wider than a PSP, if that. And even with the new add-on, it's still dwarfed by the PlayStation Vita.

For the most part, the button placement feels spot-on, too. The shoulder bumpers feel chunkier and more comfortable than those on the barebones 3DS, the thumb falls naturally on the second circle pad and, if anything, the extra girth afforded by the cradle actually makes the console's d-pad feel a little less out on a limb. The two supplementary shoulder buttons will also no doubt please the Monster Hunter faithful.

It's rather galling to learn it'll need a single AAA battery, but at least the battery compartment is hidden out of sight in the dock itself. There's no physical connector visible on the device, so we can only assume the battery is there to power infra-red - or even wireless? - communication with the 3DS base unit.

However, perhaps inevitably given the impossible scale of the task, it's not all good news. The left shoulder button is stuck in an uncomfortable groove between the edge of the peripheral and the 3DS' top screen, throwing the handheld off balance. The volume slider is hard to get at too, the wi-fi switch is blotted out altogether and the game and stylus slots are covered up, so no hot cart switching.

It's difficult to gauge just how odd it will feel having the face buttons to the left of the second circle pad rather than above it, as is now customary, until we've actually played a game with the peripheral. The unit we tried out was tethered to the waist of a chirping booth babe, with only the 3DS' menu screen available.

To be fair on Nintendo's put-upon engineers, it feels like they've done their very best to solve an essentially intractable problem. It's an extremely competent hatchet job, but a hatchet job nonetheless; an unappealing stop-gap while we wait for the inevitable hardware revision, which Nintendo surely hopes will put the whole sorry debacle behind it. Given the strength of its upcoming release slate, it may well get away with it, but this is a cock-up that should live long in the memory.

The Circle Pad Expansion is due out alongside Monster Hunter Tri G in Japan this December. Western launch dates are still to be announced.

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